‘The marriage bed’s a trough of shit fit for pigs to lie in it,’ says Quevedo (Christopher Logan), a poet in 17th Century Spain and brutal cynic of all things associated with the human condition: love, passion, hunger and the quest for domination and power. He’s speaking as a subject of the Spanish Court, which is already in decline but hanging onto its past victories as a conquering nation. And how best for a marauding power to restore its authority than to wage yet another clumsy war, one of the many themes of Losing Venice, Jo Clifford’s ribald comedy first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1985. It’s almost unimaginable that we’ve waited so long for a revival of this racy Shakespearean-style piece which so adroitly lampoons the unchanging aspects of human behaviour and the politics of war and social class in which we live today.
But where the play is most effective is in its ironic presentation of love relationships, ever on the brink of destruction and restoration, but necessary for the survival of the human race. It’s a fascinating view and a lively debate would certainly ensue according to where you situate yourself on the spectrum of sexual politics.
Clifford’s writing certainly renders a swift kick up the rear of male machismo, while offering a deliciously feminist view of the male/female relation with all its disappointments and shortcomings. In particular, the characters of Maria (Eleanor Fanyinka) and the Duchess (Florence Roberts) each carry the flippant, razor sharp, but world-weary, observation of the pitfalls of human coupling, while their partners remain densely unaware that women are creatures ever capable of longing and unsatisfied desire.
When Maria complains to her lover Pablo (Remus Brooks) that, as servants, their reward is a foul-smelling, dark, dank hole ‘akin to a pigsty’ in which to sleep, his response is ‘We could be on the street.’ And we understand his reply; he’s a realist, happy that he’s got a job in the royal palace, while Maria aspires to throw off the yoke of servitude and bear the countenance of a woman of position. But at least Maria and Pablo share a joyous, childlike passion, something that enables them to bear the inferior circumstance into which they’ve been born. Theirs is an emotional luxury beyond possibility for the Duchess, a more complicated character, replete in stylish rag-doll flamingo-pink wig who, fresh from her wedding ceremony, scorns the very presence of her husband, the hapless Duke (Tim Delap). The Duchess is a subject of our age, one who enjoys material wealth but rootless and undefined. Although she is played with a great flair of ennui, a sense of tragedy lies beneath her acerbic wit – very much a female Oscar Wilde.
As an enhancement to the time, place, and emotional fabric of Losing Venice, it greatly benefits from the guitar playing of musician/actor Dan Wheeler. Its set design is sparse but effective in giving a wide berth to the sheer strength of performance that dominates this witty, fast-paced piece. The play’s first half is stronger, primarily because of the sexual politics so raucously defined and could benefit from a shorter second half that, at times, unravels with too many intentions. But let it be said, Losing Venice is as abundant in wit as a goat’s horn overflowing with flowers.
Review by Loretta Monaco
Losing Venice sees a nation constantly on the edge of war, with delusional ideas of its place in the world, making poor choices powered by the absurdities of masculinity. Not seen since it was the surprise smash hit of the 1985 Edinburgh Festival. Transgender performer and playwright Jo Clifford has recently performed her one-person play Jesus, Queen of Heaven around the world to great acclaim and she also told her very personal journey of becoming a trans woman in Eve, which was at the Traverse Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Festival in 2017.
Our duty is plain. To bring an end to peace.
An empire gone wrong; an empire completely gone, in fact. A nation with delusional ideas of its place in the world, making poor choices, involved in clumsy foreign adventures, constantly on the edge of war.
At home, class divides are stark yet all attention is on a Duke’s ceremonial marriage.
And surging through the chaos, the absurdities of masculinity threaten to destroy everything.
An epic fable set in the faraway Spanish Golden Age.
Tia Bannon – Sister
Remus Brooks – Pablo
Tim Delap – Duke
Eleanor Fanyinka – Maria/Mrs Doge
Christopher Logan – Quevedo
Florence Roberts – Duchess/Priest
David Verrey – King/Mr Doge
Dan Wheeler – Secretary/Musician
Paul Miller – Director
Jess Curtis – Designer
Jai Morjaria – Lighting Designer
Terry Davies – Composer
Lizzie Douglas – Costume Supervisor
Isabella Van Braeckel – Costume Supervisor
Annie Rowe CDG – Casting Director
7 September – 20 October 2018